George MacDonald.

Mary Marston. A novel online

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*^And Mrs. Cropper has the position ?" vintiiRd Utty,
with a little ])alpitation from fear of ofTcnding.

'' Aj)])arently so," answered Mrs. Wardour. But her in-
r|uiring pupil did not feel much enlightened.

Lctty had not the logic necessary to the thinking of the
thing out ; or to the discovery that, like most social ditheulties,
hers was merely one of the up})er strata of a question wliose
foundation lies far too deep for what is called Society to per-
ceive its very existence. And lience it is no wonder that Soci-
ety, a))etted by tlie Church, should go on from generation to
generation talking murderous ]»lalitudes about it.

But, although such was her reasoning beforehand, heart had
so far overcome habit and jirejudice with Mrs. Wardour, that,
convinced on the first interview of the high tone and good in-
fluence of Mary, she had gradually come to put herself in the
way of seeing her as often as she came, ostensibly to herself
that she might prevent any deterioration of intercourse ; and
although she always, on these occasions, ])layed the grand lady,
with a stateliness that seemed to say, *' Because of your indi-
vidual worth, I condescend, and make an exception, but you
must not imagine I receive your class at Thornwick," she had


almost entirely ceased making remarks upon the said class in
Letty's hearing.

On her part, Letty had by this time grown so intimate with
Mary as to open with her the question upon which her aunt
had given her so little satisfaction ; and this same Sunday af-
ternoon, as they sat in the arbor at the end of the long yew
hedge in the old garden, it had come up again between them ;
for, set thinking by Letty's bewilderment, Mary had gone on
thinking, and had at length laid hold of the matter, at least
by the end that belonged to her.

"I can not consent, Letty," she said, *Ho trouble my mind
about it as you do. I can not afford it. Society is neither my
master nor my servant, neither my father nor my sister ; and
so long as she does not bar my way to the kingdom of heaven,
which is the only society worth getting into, I feel no right to
complain of how she treats me. I have no claim on her ; I do
not acknowledge her laws — hardly her existence, and she has
no authority over me. Why should she, how could she, con-
stituted as she is, receive such as me ? The moment she did
so, she would cease to be what she is ; and, if all be true that
one hears of her, she does me a kindness in excluding me.
What can it matter to me, Letty, whether they call me a lady
or not, so long as Jesus says Daughter to me ? It reminds me
of what I heard my father say once to Mr. Turnbull, when he
had been protesting that none but church-people ought to be
buried in the churchyards. ' I don't care a straw about it, Mr.
Turnbull,' he said. * The Master was buried in a garden.' —
^ Ah, but you see things are different now,' said Mr. Turnbull.
— ' I don't hang by things, but by my Master. It is enough
for the disciple that he should be as his Master,' said my father.
— ^ Besides, you don't think it of any real consequence your-
self, or you would never want to keep your brothers and sisters
out of such nice quiet places ! ' — Mr. Turnbull gave his kind of
grunt, and said no more."

After passing Mary, Mr. W^ardour did not go very far be-
fore he began to slacken his pace ; a moment or two more and
he suddenly wheeled round, and began to walk back toward
Thornwick. Two things had combined to produce this change


of purpose — the first, the state of his boots, which, beginning
to dry in the sun and wind as he walked, grew more and more
hideous at the end of his new gray trousers ; the other, the
occurring suspicion that the girl must be Letty's new shop-
keeping friend. Miss Marston, on her way to visit her. What
a sweet, simple young woman she was ! he thought ; and
strai^rhtwav becran to ar^^nie with himself that, a^ his boots were
in such evil plight, it would Ix; more })leasant to spend the
evening with Letty and her friend, than to hold on his way to
liis own friend's, and spend the evening smoking and lounging
about the stable, or hearing his sister })lay polkas and nuizurka^
all the still Sunday twilight.

Mary had, of course, upon her arrival, narrated her small
adventure, and the conversation had again turned ujmn God-
frey just as he was nearing the house.

"How handsome your cousin is!" said ^lary, with the
simplicity natural to her.

''Do you think so ? '' returned Ixtty.

*' Don't you think so ?" rejoined Mary.

"I have never thought about it," answered Letty.

**IIe looks so manly, and has such a straightforward way
witii him ! " said Mary.

'* What one sees every day, she may feel in a sort of take-
for-granted way, without thinking about it," said luctty. *' lUit,
to tell tlie truth, I shoultl feel it jis impertinent of me to criti-
cise Cousin (Jodfrey's person as to pass an opinion on one of
the books he reads. I can not express the reverence I have for
Cousin Godfrey."

"I don't wonder," replied Mary. "Tliere is that about
him one could trust."

"There is that about him,'' returned Letty, ''makes me
afraid of him — I can not tell wliy. And yet, though every-
body, even his mother, is as anxious to please him a.s if he were
an emperor, he is the easiest person to please in the whole
house. Not that he tells you he is pleased ; he only smiles ;
but that is ([uite enough."

" But I suppose he talks to you sometimes ? '' said Mary.

*' Oh, yes — now. lie used not ; but I think he does now


more than to anybody else. It was a long time before he began,
though. Now he is always giving me something to read. I
wish he wouldn't ; it frightens me dreadfully. He always ques-
tions me, to know whether I understand what I read."

Letty ended with a little cry. Through the one narrow
gap in the yew hedge, near to the arbor, Godfrey had entered
the walk, and was coming toward them.

He was a well-made man, thirty years of age, rather tall,
sun-tanned, and bearded, with wavy brown hair, and gentle
approach. His features were not regular, but that is of little
consequence where there is unity. His face indicated faculty
and feeling, and there was much good nature, shadowed with .
memorial suffering, in the eyes which shone so blue out of the

Mary rose respectfully as he drew near.

"What treason were you talking, Letty, that you were so
startled at sight of me ?" he said, with a smile. '^ You were
complaining of me as a hard master, were you not ? "

" No, indeed. Cousin Godfrey ! " answered Letty energeti-
cally, not without tremor, and coloring as she spoke. " I was
only saying I could not help being frightened when you asked
me questions about wliat I had been reading. I am so stupid,
you know ! "

"Pardon me, Letty," returned her cousin, "I know no-
thing of the sort. Allow me to say you arc very far from stu-
pid. Nobody can understand everything at first sight. But
you have not introduced me to your friend."

Letty bashfully murmured the names of the two.

"I guessed as much," said Wardour. "Pray sit down,
Miss Marston. For the sake of your dresses, I will go and
change my boots. May I come and Join you after ? "

"Please do. Cousin Godfrey ; and bring something to read
to us," said Letty, who wanted her friend to admire her cousin.
"It's Sunday, you know."

"Why you should be afraid of him, I can't think," said
Mary, when his retreating steps had ceased to sound on the
gravel. " He is delightful ! "

"I don't like to look stupid," said Letty.


" I shouldu* t mind how stupid I looked so long as I was
learning," returned Mary. ^'I wonder you never told me
about him ! '*'

" I couldn't talk about Cousin Godfrey/' said Letty ; and a
pause followed.

'^How good of liim to come to us again I" said Mary.
"AVhat will lie read to us?''

''Most likely something out of a book you never heard of
before, and can't remember the name of when you have heard
it — at least that's tlie way with me. I wonder if he will talk
to you, Mary ? I should like to hear how Cousin (Jodfrev talks
to girls."

" AVhy, you know how he talks to you," said Mary.

"Oh, but lam only Cousin Letty I lie can talk anyhow
to me."

" Jiy your own account he talks to yuii in the best i)ossiblo

*' Yes ; I dare say ; liut — "

*'Biit what?"

"I can't hel]) wisliing Bomctimes he would talk a little
nonsense. It would be such a relief. I am sure I should
understand better if lie would. I shouldn't be so frightened
at him then."

*' The way I generally hear gentlemen talk to girls makes
me ashamed — makes me feel as if I must ask, * Is it that you
are a fool, or that you take that girl for one?' They never
talk so to me."

Letty sat pulling a jonquil to pieces. She looked uj). Ibr
eyes were full of thought, l)ut she paused a long time before
she spoke, and, when she did, it was only to say :

'* I fear, Mary, I sliould take any man for a fool who took
me for anything else."

Letty was a rather small and rather freckled girl, Avith
the daintiest of rounded figures, a good forehead, and line
clear brown eyes. Her mouth was not pretty, except when
she smiled — and she did not smile often. "When she did, it
was not unfrefpiently with the tears in her eyes, and then she
looked lovely. In her manner there was an indescribably


taking charm, of wliicli it is not easy to give an impression ;
but I think it sprang from a constitutional humility, partly
ruined into a painful and haunting sense of inferiority, for
which she imagined herself to blame. Hence there dwelt in
her eyes an appeal which few hearts could resist. When they
met another's, they seemed to say : ^*I am nobody ; but you
need not kill me ; I am not pretending to be anybody. I will
try to do what you want, but I am not clever. Only I am
sorry for it. Be gentle with me." To Godfrey, at least, her
eyes spoke thus.

In ten minutes or so he reappeared, far at the other end of
the yew-walk, approaching slowly, with a book, in which he
seemed thoughtfully searching as he came. When they saw
him the girls instinctively moved farther from each other,
making large room for him between them, and when he came
up he silently took the place thus silently assigned him.

**I am going to try your brains now, Letty," he said, and
tapped the book with a finger.

*^0h, please don't!" pleaded Letty, as if he had been
threatening her with a small amputation, or the loss of a front

**Yes,"he persisted; ^^and not your brains only, Letty,
but your heart, and all that is in you. "

At this even Mary could not help feeling a little frightened ;
and she was glad there was no occasion for her to speak.

With just a word of introduction, Godfrey read Carl3de's
translation of that finest of Jean Paul's dreams in which he
sets forth the condition of a godless universe all at once awak-
ened to the knowledge of the causelessness of its own existence.
Slowly, with due inflection and emphasis — slowly, but without
pause for thought or explanation — he read to the end, ceased
suddenly, and lifted his eyes.

'^ There, Letty," he said, ^^what do you think of that?
There's a bit of Sunday reading for you ! "

Letty was looking altogether perplexed, and not a little

"I don't understand a word of it," she answered, gulping
back her tears.


He glanced at Mary. She was white as death, her lips
quivered, and from her eyes shot a keen light that seemed to
lacerate their blue.

*'It is terrible I'' she said. '*I never read anything like

*^ There is nothing like it," he answered.

*'But the author is a Unitarian, is he not ?" remarked
Mary — for she heard plenty of theology, if not mucli Cliris-
tianity, in her chapel."

Godfrey looked at her, then at the book fur a moment.

'^ That may merely seem, from the necessity of the supposi-
tion," he answered ; and read again :

" * Now sank from aloft a noble, high Form, with a look of
uneffaceable sorrow, down to the Altar, and all the Dead cried
out, ^'Christ I is there no God?" He answered, '* There is
none !" The whole Shadow of each then shuddered, not the
breast alone ; and one after the other all, in this shuddering,
shook into pieces.' — You see," he went on. "that if there be
no God, Christ can only be the first of men."

"I understand," said Mary.

** Do you really then, Mary ? " said T/^tty, looking at her
with wondering admiration.

" I only meant," answered Mary — "but," she went on, in-
ternij)ting herself, *' 1 d

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 3 of 40)